Can breastfeeding help prevent the rotavirus infection?

I know that the rotavirus vaccine has now been discontinued but I was disturbed that it was recommended for all infants, regardless of how they were fed. I've always read that breastfeeding offers great protection against rotavirus, as well as many other illnesses. If breastfed babies are at much lower risk, why vaccinate?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

What an outstanding question! Of course, you are right that breastfeeding provides protection against a number of illnesses. It has been noted to decrease the risk of pneumonia, ear infections, meningitis, and urinary infections. And breastfeeding has also been implicated in decreasing the incidence of severe diarrhea due to a number of bacteria and viruses. Certainly when it comes to decreasing the risk of infection, the benefits of breastfeeding are enormous.

You are absolutely correct that breastfeeding not only decreases the chances of the baby getting the rotavirus infection, but it also decreases the risk of severe diarrhea should the child get rotavirus. However, just as medications are not always 100 percent effective and immunizations do not always give complete immunity, breastfeeding does not ward off all disease.

The effect that breastfeeding has on decreasing the rotavirus infection only lasts for as long as the child is breasfeeding. This may seem like an obvious point, but many people think that as long as the child was breastfed, the protection against rotavirus infection will last. As it turns out, there does not seem to be any long-lasting effect from breastfeeding against the severe diarrhea from rotavirus.

Your point is well taken. The fact that breastfeeding significantly decreases the effect of the rotavirus infection should be emphasized as yet another reason why "breast is best."

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